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8533 - Architecture, Ancestors, and Sacred Corrals in the Classic Maya Patio Group 9M-22 at Copan, Honduras

Excavations in Group 9M-22 at Copan revealed architectural features symbolically linking elite individuals, ancestors and “co-essences,” to the political-religious hierarchy of Copan. Structure 197, on the east side of the patio group, contained a small formal opening at the base of its east-facing wall that was rectangular in shape and only a few centimeters in height and width. This opening extended into the core of Str. 197 and entered a large empty stone chamber. It is argued here that this chamber reflects a Classic Maya version of a “sacred corral” referred to in ethnographic literature of Highland Maya communities. Thus, Str. 197 functioned as an ancestral temple, symbolizing a sacred mountain where the “co-essences” of the living were protected by ancestral gods. Structure 195, a large vaulted building in the patio group is linked with the ancestral temple and its “sacred corral.” Eight mosaic jaguar masks encircled the upper façade of Str. 195, while four life-size carved portrait heads were displayed below the jaguar masks. Two of the stone heads were human portraits and each was paired with a carved head of a supernatural animal that may well represent the “way” of its paired human portrait head. This reflects the importance of a key individual in the patio group who directed ancestral rites associated with the protection of the “co-essences” of people living in Group 9M-22. The jaguar masks adorning the upper façade of Str. 195 would have been visible from the sacbe that traverses the Sepulturas area of Copan. In contrast, the human and supernatural animal heads would be seen only from within the patio group, indicating different messages were transmitted to audiences inside and outside of Group 9M-22. The right to carve and display the jaguar masks likely reflects the legitimation and recognition of an individual in the patio group obtaining a position in the political-religious hierarchy within the royal court of Copan.

Keywords: Architecture, Ancestors, Sacred Corral, Copan

Author: Sheehy, James (Penn State/Juniata College, Ud States of Am / USA)

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